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In every interview I have ever been in, I get asked questions such as these:

  • Do you consider yourself a hard worker?
  • How would you rate your expertise in [whatever area]?
  • Do you think you're a fast learner?

Every time, I'm stumped about how to answer. Truthfully, I am a hard worker, I usually have a high degree of expertise in whatever I'm applying for, I do consider myself a very fast learner, etc. But how can you give those answers without sounding self-absorbed or arrogant? Are you expected to simply answer "Oh, I guess I'm okay," as a sign of humility, even if that doesn't adequately reflect your ability? If you are truly trying to be competitive in an interview, you want to make yourself look the best that you can... but it seems like when you are asked these questions, there is absolutely no way to do that.

How I usually respond to these questions usually sounds something like:

Well, you would have to ask [my boss, so-and-so], because I'm obviously not the most objective judge. But personally, yes, I do consider myself a very reliable and hard worker.

This is as close as I have come to being sufficiently humble while still showing self-confidence. But to this day I have no idea if this answer is appropriate or right, or what an interviewer is looking for when they ask this question, or how one is supposed to respond in such a scenario.

  • 3
    See dilbert.com/strips/comic/1995-04-16 – DJClayworth Sep 7 '12 at 19:35
  • In my honest opinion, and contrary to MrJamin advice, I would say that some qualities normally seen as "strengths" taken to extremes could be perfectly be taken as a weakness. In fact, both examples MrJamin gave were exactly the ones I said several times I had interviews and in all of them got hired. So to be clear, this is not about I'm being right in advices or not, but always remember that your interview strategy is contextualized into the head of the interviewer. My advice to colleagues and friends is: Be honest and push yourself a little bit. – Matthew Azkimov Sep 8 '12 at 12:15
  • Rating expertise is an easy one - you should have a fairly good idea of your ability. You should be able to give a very concise answer along the lines of: "I've dabbled", "Beginner, but I could become fluent quickly", "Intermediate, I'm fairly comfortable but wouldn't describe myself as an expert", "Advanced, I can perform most tasks effectively without any issue, although the occasional one takes more thought", "Expert, I'll have no problems at all working with that technology/skill, it's not often something causes me trouble" – Jon Story Mar 11 '15 at 15:14
  • see also: Tough curveball interview questions – gnat Oct 19 '17 at 17:42
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Yes/no questions are bad interview questions. If you can give a great answer to a bad question, you are ahead of the game. Yes and No are both bad answers. A good answer explains why you think you are or are not, and probably has a story too. For example:

Yes, I am a very hard worker when it's needed. For example if a production problem is discovered late in the day, I will stay to fix it, because I know the client can't be down overnight. There are times you have to put in long hours and skip your breaks in order to deal with an unexpected situation.

Or:

I prefer working smarter to working harder. I've seen many co-workers who routinely stay late trying to catch up their deadlines, or skip breaks and work through lunch, and they just seem to get further and further behind. I find that getting enough sleep, going for a walk at lunch, and not driving myself into the ground keeps my productivity high and I get more done than people who work longer hours than me.

The key as always is to be truthful. If the second answer is true for you, then you want to work in a place that agrees with your attitude.

Not all long answers are good. Consider this one:

Yes, I work about 12 hours a day right now. I come in at 7 and leave at 7. Some of my projects are behind, so I am trying to catch up even though it's not my fault because the project manager made the schedule and he really doesn't know what he's doing so we're stuck with trying to meet his estimates and parts of it I don't know how to even do. So at 7am if no-one is there I can ask I work on something I know how to do, then I switch at 9 and go get help where I'm stuck, I do as much as I can in the day even though I am constantly interrupted and have to help other people with their issues that they don't know how to do, and then when everyone is gone I keep working until I am just exhausted and finally I go home but I am right back at it the next morning!

That answer reveals a lot about the answerer, but isn't leading towards a "hire" decision.

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    +1 "I prefer working smarter to working harder" _ this is what I was looking for to explain why I don't stay late! It's perfectly expressed. – superM Sep 7 '12 at 13:15
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    +1: In this specific case, I usually combine the two and say that I don't mind working late sometimes, but if I'm working late for the same reason, time and time again, then I'll push to fix the problem that leads to that. But the key is to be truthful while remaining positive. – pdr Sep 7 '12 at 15:36
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    Having agreement on the attitude is huge. You should be interviewing them as much as possible as well, and their responses to your answers can be very telling. For example if they are basically trying to figure out if you're fine with regularly working 60 hour weeks then you can bet they are already doing that, so if you don't want to do that and don't think you can help them stop, maybe the workplace isn't for you. Don't just give answers you think they want to hear: it's not good for you and if they hire you they'll figure out you were lying anyway. – gregmac Sep 7 '12 at 17:52
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The best way to answer a question like that is to provide some type of short narrative of a past situation.

If you're asked "Do you consider yourself a hard worker?" you can't just answer with "Yes, very hard, ask my boss!" You should provide a real example from your past work to illustrate that and then be ready for follow-up questions.

When preparing for an interview, put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer and try to imagine how your answers will sound. If the answers seems boastful and arrogant, that's because they are. If the answers seem meek and hapless, that's because they really are.

You have to walk a fine line between being humility and bragging. The best way to do this is to back up what you say with real history. People (your interviewers) relate best to narratives. Its OK if the narratives aren't spectacular. What is most important is that you're authentic with your answers.

13

Answer honestly. Some people ask to see how you sell yourself. Are you humble, or self-deprecating, or think you're the best thing since sliced bread? Some people ask to make sure you're skilled/self aware enough to give accurate self-assessment.

That, though, assumes the interviewer is competent. I've seen plenty of these questions be nothing but filler from bad interviewers.

  • 3
    The Dunning–Kruger effect... Interesting. This might explain why those that are more towards the middle of the proverbial "intelligence bell-curve" tend to make better managers because confidence more closely matches skill assessment. – Chad Harrison Sep 7 '12 at 15:03
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One shouldn't be humble at an interview. It's your biggest chance to make a good impression. Be self-confident. If they ask you, for example, "Are you a hard worker", you could answer something like "I believe I am" and bring some example why you think so ("I've mastered a new technology in 2 weeks!"). As long as you're not arrogant or too pushy, everything's fine.

Imagine you were trying to sell some nice product. If your customers asked you what you think about it, you probably wouldn't tell them to ask your other customers, or that you're not objective. You would try to show everything that is so good about it.

Interviews are very similar. If you don't tell them about your strong skills, they probably would never know.

7

Don't forget that an interview is basically a conversation to sell yourself to someone. So there is no harm in being self-confident. I think the response you gave that you're probably not the most objective judge is a pretty good introduction to the self-confident part of the answer.

Also, try to see if you can imagine how it would be if the tables are turned. If you where that particular person interviewing for that particular company who wants a person for that particular job. Who would you hire? The "We'll, I guess I have same knowlodge about (...)" person? Or the "My high knowledge about (...) makes me THE person for this job, because (...)" person?

Sometimes it can be usefull to be a bit more humble, but that's totally dependent of the job and the person(s) who are interviewing. Most of the time though, a job interview is just a conversation for you to sell your self to people who needs to be convinced that they need YOU, only YOU and NO ONE ELSE...

4

When I ask these kinds of questions, my intention is to see whether the interviewee is capable of being honest and self critical about their abilities, not whether they can twist words in to making something bad sound like something good (e.g. anyone who answers "what are your weaknesses?" with strengths dressed up as weaknesses like "I'm too much of a perfectionist" or "I care too much" isn't going to last long).

Knowing your own limitations is key to being a successful team player. Similarly, knowing where you fall short and where you could do better is key to taking control of your own development.

2

It all depends if how the interview is going honestly. You don't want to talk too much, or talk too little. It also depends on how the interviewer is talking as well, do they go on and ramble when they are talking about the company, or are they short and percise?

Depending on your read of the interviewer, it should be how you answer the questions.

Now if you are asking if your answer is good, I'd be questioning if you would be a good employee, because you need to realize that they are asking the question for two reasons.

  1. To see how you respond, quickly, or do you have to think about it.
  2. The meat of the answer, because only you can know if you are a hard worker. If you say yes, and say my refrences can vouch for it, then I feel you would be on more solid ground.

Saying I don't know when being asked about your technical skill isn't a bad thing, but saying I don't know about yourself that leaves more questions than answers I think to an interviewer... it would for me.

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